A HEADTEACHER who resigned because of the Government’s academy proposals has warned schools are beginning to resemble sweatshops as children and teachers are pressured into hitting reading, writing and maths targets.

Kit Messenger has been inundated with messages of support from parents, teachers and dozens of headteachers since speaking out on the state of education after resigning as headteacher of Manor Field Primary School in Burgess Hill.

In her first interview since the announcement, which left parents and pupils in tears, Ms Messenger opened up further on her concerns about the future landscape of Britain’s schools, saying we risk flushing out arts and culture altogether in a drive for better results.

Although she has had concerns about the curriculum since last summer, it was the Government’s announcement that every school will be converted to an academy by 2020 that forced her hand.

She said: “If I really focus on the things children will be tested and measured on, then we let children down because it almost becomes like a sweatshop.

“It feels like the pressure to drive children to reach those standards is enormous.

“And if I don’t do that and do what I think is in the best interest of the children, the school will not do very well.”

In an attempt to drive standards at her own school, Ms Messenger recently visited a school Ofsted deemed outstanding and believed she saw a grim reality of what life will look like when all schools become academies.

“It was almost as if children were empty carcasses that were being drilled and yes they get amazing results but to the detriment of these children,” she said.

“These children are almost like empty robots, so I know at this school if we focused on reading, writing and maths, we could really drive data up but it would be immoral. We would be taking away the experience of primary school being a positive one and the breadth of the curriculum that would prepare them for the future.”

The radical new plan proposed by Government has stirred up much emotion and Ms Messenger hopes putting her head above the parapet might open the door to discussion about the education sector’s shortfalls.

She said: “I would love for Nicky Morgan to really listen to teachers by sending out a survey and really finding out how many teachers across the whole of the UK really believe the curriculum is right at the moment.

“What I would love to see is a sea of support from parents and a bigger voice for teachers and headteachers so we can look seriously at what’s happening in classrooms every day.”


KIT Messenger had always wanted to be a teacher.  But she didn’t think it would involve teaching 11-year-olds the difference between affronted adverbials and preposition phrases.

As well as getting children up to speed with British values and what a healthy relationship looks like, she told how teachers are now attempting to sculpt the mathematicians and scientists of tomorrow by driving standards in reading, writing and maths. 

As a 17-year-old, she was raised by a vicar and a mother who worked as a care worker, and her sights were already set on becoming a teacher but she was weighing up how to get there.

She got chatting to an elderly woman in a park and her chattiness took over befor and was offered some words of wisdom: study something you’re passionate about. 

Her obsession would soon become teaching but as a teenager it was monkeys and apes – she could recognise and name more than 100 species just by a single photograph. 

Having studied human evolution at the University of Liverpool, she headed south to study her PGCE in Brighton before embarking on a 23-year career in various classrooms.

She was a pupil herself in a primary school in East Grinstead and later Christ’s Hospital. 

Ms Messenger’s first teaching job was a little out of the ordinary – at a kindergarten in Haiti with rationed electricity and no running water. 

She said: “There is terrible fighting, terrible poverty but people were happy and there was a great sense of community even though they were going through such a terrible time.”

To give an idea of her thirst for learning, she learned Haitian Creole in the year she spent in the capital Port-au-Prince. 

From there she changed surroundings somewhat to become a key stage one teacher at Albourne Primary School just down the road from where she spent the bulk of her career – Manor Field Primary School in Burgess Hill – first as a deputy for 12 years and then a head for the last four. 

Now, she is heading into her last summer term having sold her house to fund her resignation and is considering pulling pints for a living to pay her rent. 

It’s a damning indictment of an education system that Ms Messenger believes is failing our children – and a problem which will be exacerbated in her view by the conversion of all schools to academies. 

“With academies,” she said, “the Department for Education (DfE) will tell you that you will have the freedom of a broader curriculum. 

“Of course it’s not, because at the end of the day, the measures of the schools are still going to be reading, writing and maths. 

“And so as a head, you’re a fool if you don’t focus on those things and it’s really then very worrying that heads are forced into the panic of having to raise standards and only focusing on those things. 

“I would love for Nicky Morgan to really listen to teachers by sending out a survey and finding out how many teachers across the whole of the UK really believe the curriculum is right at the moment and how many feel it has been narrowed too much.”

She believes that percentage would be in the high 90s.  During her time as a teacher, she has seen the curriculum narrow, workloads increase and – ultimately – the pupils’ experience damaged.

The problems are already deep-rooted and with academies on the way, it’s going to get worse and not better, she believes. 

“I live next door to an academy,” she said, “and I speak to the headteacher regularly and he told me it was the most difficult and stressful time of his life. 

“Because, again, it comes down to the drive and the fear of data. 

“The fear of the data is a huge thing in schools and more people need to say it because they’re all scared of it.

"Really successful companies do not operate in fear.” 

Halfway through the interview, a pupil called Mark entered the head’s office without knocking to come and read with the school’s dog Bertie Button. 

“I have a genuine open door policy,” she said.

“Children have to feel important enough to walk in and talk to the headteacher.”

She feels is something that is sure to be lost if the trend of chasing results continues, summed up by a conversation she had with a music teacher just moments before she met The Argus. 

She was chatting to a music teacher who used to have 27 violinists to teach at a neighbouring school. She now has eight. 

Ms Messenger said: “We’re going to wake up in 20 years’ time and there will not be an arts culture in Britain. 

“There won’t be musicians and artists because it will just have been narrowed so much. 

“I know the DfE will say that music is in the curriculum. 

"Yes, it’s definitely there, but there isn’t time to devote to it.”